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Spotlight: Meet Meagan Nydegger, the First Female Chief of Reactor Operations at the NIST Center for Neutron Research

A woman stands in front of a wall full of knobs and switches.
Credit: J. Stoughton/NIST

Visit any technical institution and you can expect to find engineers in a wide range of different fields. Visit the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR), and you’ll find nuclear engineer Meagan Nydegger. 

Her introduction to the field began at the young age of 14, when she was tasked with writing a five-page paper for her high-school physics class on a science topic of her choice. Meagan chose nuclear physics, curious about her sister’s pursuit of that subject. Writing this paper opened her eyes to the wonders of nuclear science. From that point forward, she set her sights on becoming a nuclear engineer. 

After studying at the Missouri University of Science and Technology and working as a senior reactor operator at a commercial nuclear reactor and then transitioning to the corporate nuclear operations department at Southern Nuclear, Meagan joined us in May 2019 as the first woman to serve as NIST’s chief of reactor operations.

Scientists at the NCNR fire neutrons at an object to see it inside and out in a whole new way. Researchers run experiments at the reactor all throughout the night, and Meagan strictly manages the 24/7 workforce and maintenance schedule to account for every single minute of the facility’s use. (For example, a reactor operator must remain at the controls at all times, which means that we need another person to cover meal and bathroom breaks.)

For International Women in Engineering Day, we’re sending a shoutout to Meagan and all NIST female engineers whose passion keeps us on track and headed toward discovery.

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Released June 23, 2020, Updated April 7, 2021